Upsherin and the Hunt for Tradition (or “Sam’s First Hair Cut”)

I don’t want to be the stereotypical white person who cherrypicks and steals traditions from other cultures without respecting or understanding the meaning, but just because they sound kind of cool. Yet I’m craving tradition. I also recognize that some of what gets labeled as “tradition” serves to control women and maintain a patriarchal status quo. I don’t need that. But again, sometimes I crave “traditions.” So perhaps some research into my own waspy (boring?) heritage is on the agenda in order to rediscover lost traditions that speak to me. Or perhaps even better – create our own unique family traditions?

Where did this random train of thought regarding traditions come from?
I was reading about the Jewish tradition of upsherin and I liked the idea of it. Never mind that I don’t think of Sam as an unpruned fig tree. I just like the ceremonial nature of attaching meaning to the commonplace.

Upsherin, as I understand it, is the Jewish practice of not cutting a boy’s hair until his third birthday. Its origins are in a verse about allowing the fig tree to go unpruned for three years, and then it will bear fruit upon pruning. Metaphorically, the concept of “bearing fruit” has to do with growth, maturity, productivity, and living out the life God has planned for you and using the gifts God has given you. Upsherin also signifies the official start of the boy’s Jewish education. Of course, I could be misunderstanding this entirely. I only read about it on a blog by actress and celebrity mom Mayim Bialik.

The thing is, Sammy has not had his first hair cut yet. His hair is soft and golden and so beautiful. True, many strangers call him a girl, but that doesn’t bother me. I understand that with small children people look for certain indicators (length of hair, pink clothes) so that they may comfortably categorize your child into a narrow gender binary (which I believe is extra silly for small children.) But I digress. I don’t have any pink clothing for him, but his hair does go a couple inches past his collar and sweetly curl up a bit at the ends. Can you tell that I’m going to have a hard time cutting it off? Those days of having a wee baby passed by quickly. Once I cut his hair he’s going to look that much more like a “boy” and less like my “baby.” On a purely practical level, you should see how he kicks and squirms during the torturous toenail clipping episodes. Like he’s fighting off zombies. There was no way I wanted scissors anywhere near his head and face.

So we decided to wait until he turned two and might possibly sit still for the haircut. (Do two-year-olds sit still? Yeah, I might have misjudged that one.) Now his birthday is only two months away, and I’m already feeling sad about cutting his locks. Like I said, I’m not hung up on strict gender restrictions for a one-year-old. But it’s starting to look scraggly, hang in his eyes, and starting to – just the tiniest bit – resemble a mullet. I think everyone will agree with me that I can’t have my sweet Sam sporting a mullet.

Speaking of tradition… clip from Fiddler on the Roof – Tradition!


 

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